Stranded passenger turned 9-11 experience into play

Steve
Steve Bartlett
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Michael Walsh performs one of the characters in his show, “Between Takeoff and Landing.” — Photo courtesy of www.betweentakeoffandlanding.com

Michael Walsh has shared his 9-11 experience many times, and he’s usually had an audience.

The New York-based actor was stranded in Gander during the crisis and turned that experience into a popular one-man play.

“People really enjoy the show,” Walsh says.

“They find the story (of what happened in Gander) fascinating. If they know the story at all, they know it only in the slightest.”

The Telegram is running a series of stories about people’s 9-11 memories to mark the 10th anniversary of the tragedy. The paper is also asking readers to share their 9-11 thoughts and memories. They can do so at www.thetelegram.com by clicking on “Remembering 9-11” under the “Featured Links” section.

Walsh was flying home from Dublin on Aer Lingus Flight 104 when planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

His flight was one of 38 diverted to Gander and he was put up at the Elks Lodge.

As they waited a couple of days for the skies to reopen, Walsh bonded with a lot of fellow passengers. They had nothing to do but entertain themselves, sometimes with Irish whiskey bought at the Dublin duty-free.

“There were lots of funny stories, things that amused me that I thought were interesting.”

Back in New York — a city devastated by the terrorist attacks — Walsh says people talked about their experience that day with grief and frustration.

“They didn’t know the people of Gander and Newfoundland went out of their way to accommodate those people who were stranded at their doorstep.”

Feeling fortunate to have spent the days immediately following

9-11 in Gander, he realized he had a story worth telling.

“I think it really was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, just to be a part of something so big and so unique and to experience, for lack of better words, humanity.”

A short time later, while watching a workshop on solo performance, a light bulb went off in Walsh’s head. He had found a vehicle for his 9-11 experience — the one-person play.

He joined the workshop and wrote “Between Takeoff and Landing.”

In it, Walsh tells his story through the numerous characters. He uses a variety of accents, including Irish, American and Newfoundland, to make them come to life, and says they are not so far exaggerated from the people he met.

“The characters are all very charming and funny in their own way.”

“Between Takeoff and Landing” premiered at the Seattle Fringe Festival in fall 2003, and since played at similar festivals across the U.S. and Canada.

“It was always warmly received, and I’ve been encouraged to do more with it.”

Besides getting positive feedback, he says the play generates good discussion, leading to many after-show conversations with people about what they were doing on 9-11.

Walsh notes Canadians have always given him good marks for his Newfoundland brogue.

“I worked hard it like to get it right ... It doesn’t sound Canadian. It sounds very Irish to me. In a play that has lots of Irish characters, that was tricky.”

“They find the story (of what happened in Gander) fascinating. If they know the story at all, they know it only in the slightest.” Michael Walsh

After focusing on “Between Takeoff and Landing” for a few years, he moved on to other projects.

But with this year being the 10th anniversary of 9-11, Walsh decided to “take it out again.”

In July, he performed the show five times at the Capitol Fringe Festival in Washington, D.C.

He says it’s changed him professionally. He explains he used to be an actor trying to get parts in someone else’s work, but since writing and performing the show, “I’ve found a voice and can create my own work as performer.”

No matter how much his career evolves, Walsh remains grateful to Gander and Newfoundland.

“I’d love to say thanks to the people ... for being so warm and generous on that day and stepping up to the plate.”

He hasn’t been back since 9-11, but says it would be a dream to take his wife and daughter to the central Newfoundland town, and to perform his show there.

“I have to say I’m sort of nervous about doing it. You’re sort of telling someone else’s story on their own turf. (That) would be sort of intimidating for me.”

For a video preview of “Between Takeofff and Landing,” go to http://bit.ly/qKaGvN.

sbartlett@thetelegram.com Twitter: bartlett_steve

For more, go to the Remembering 9-11 link on The Telegram website, located under featured links on the main page.

Organizations: World Trade Center, The Telegram

Geographic location: Gander, Newfoundland, Dublin New York Seattle U.S. Canada Washington, D.C.He

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  • gareth parker
    September 07, 2011 - 08:03

    Great job Michael. My wife and i live in the UK and visit Newfoundland at least once every year (we like it and the people so much we bought a house near Eastport in 2009). As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches we are bombarded with programmes which show in graphic detail the tremendously sad side of the events that day. It would be great if one of the Discovery channels would decide to do a one hour uplifting programme about the people that were diverted to NF and how the wonderful people of NF "stepped up to the plate" as Michael puts it. Wish i could see his play one day.

  • David Taylor
    September 07, 2011 - 07:53

    Great. There are many stories to be told of these days. It should be made into video/movie. It's the thing the Federal Cultural Department should support.